‘Developer to Tech Leader: Balancing Success & Well-being’ with Richard Donovan, Director, RD Coached

In the recent episode of ‘Beyond the Code’, Host Kshitij Mohan engages in an insightful conversation with Richard Donovan, director at RD Coached. The central theme of the discussion revolves around helping leaders and developers balance well-being and success. 

The episode starts with Richard recounting his inspirational journey, followed by an engaging fireside chat. Afterward, Richard imparts valuable wisdom on managing the ‘Not knowing everything’ mindset as a leader and effectively delegating tasks. He takes a deeper plunge into developer mental and physical well-being and the challenges associated with it. 

Lastly, Richard leaves developers and engineering managers with essential advice to navigate this journey effectively.


  • (0:06) Richard’s background 
  • (5:08) Fireside chat 
  • (7:26) Challenging aspect of Richard’s journey 
  • (9:52) ‘Not knowing everything’ mindset 
  • (11:42): Delegating tasks 
  • (14:41): Developer well-being and burnout
  • (18:11): Challenges associated with it
  • (20:00): Advice for EMs and developers 

Links and mentions

Episode Transcript

Kshitij Mohan: Hello everyone. I’m Mohan your host back with another exciting episode of Beyond the Code by Typo. Today’s guest has had an amazing journey of evolution while being in the software engineering space for more than 22 plus years. Right from being a software developer to a leader, to a mindset coach today.

He has a very unique perspective on helping leaders and developers balance well-being and success. And this is what we would be talking to him today about. Please welcome Richard. Hey, Richard, Welcome to the show. 

Richard Donovan: Thanks for having me, guys. Looking forward to it. 

Kshitij Mohan: Thank you so much, Richard. This is really great. We are so happy that you could find time for this. So thank you so much for being here. Perfect. I think before we start on anything, Richard, and as I mentioned, we saw a lot of content about you, what you write, what you post. I think we are just so amazed by the kind of journey that you have had. Right? And you talk a lot about mental well-being, emotional well-being, physical health, and while combining all these aspects with the engineering piece as well. So I think. Before we talk about anything, I think we would love to understand and just get a quick glimpse of how your journey has been.

Richard Donovan: Well, it’s been a long journey as you’ve already pointed out, and it’s been an interesting one. So for those that don’t know, I’m a self-taught developer, so I don’t have a degree. I didn’t go to university. In the first job that I had, I was pointed at a stack of books on the shelf and a few people kind of said, “Look, read this one, read this one”. And I took them all in the evenings. I read them. I start to build things and six months later, that company took a chance on me as a junior developer. I did that for a little while, and that company decided to rewrite their entire software suite in the .NET framework, and that was in .NET 1.0 so…

Kshitij Mohan: The beginning of time! 

Richard Donovan: I’ve basically been working with .NET since 1.0  and I still work with it now. So it’s been the biggest part of my career. After that I’ve worked in all different levels, I’ve been a junior, I’ve been a mid, I’ve been a senior, I’ve been a manager. I’ve been a software architect. I’ve been a contractor. So I’ve really kind of explored so many perspectives and I suppose one of the things that led me to move into mindset coaching is when I actually reflected on my career. I remember particularly early on being extremely introverted. I hated speaking up in meetings. I hated meeting new people. I used to just get so embarrassed and hot and bothered and all of those things. I didn’t like sharing my ideas in meetings or when we’re estimating. I didn’t really contribute to the conversation. And also, even though that stuff was going on and that was really holding me back, one thing I did always do was fitness. So that’s carried me through when other things were maybe holding me back. So I’ve historically got a lot of confidence from going to the gym and, and my fitness journey.

And then later I started to work on my mindset. I started to realize that it was actually holding me back. And when I started to work on that, I realized that the value that I was bringing to businesses and my role was actually a lot more about me and how I communicated with other people and how I shared my ideas, all these things that I wasn’t doing before, and it was a lot less about the code that I was writing and you can probably imagine that that leads quite nicely into leadership roles when you kind of get that realization that actually it’s you as a person that is the value and not the code. So that’s a kind of a fairly brief summary of a very long journey, shall we say. 

Kshitij Mohan: Oh, amazing. Richard. I think that’s definitely inspiring to a lot of us and most of the things I think we all can relate to and so glad that you found your way to keep going, and I think that’s what kind of made you what you are today. So glad to hear this, Richard. Perfect. I think before we get, and I think this is what we are gonna talk about a lot more today evolution in this journey, growing from the starting aspect of NIC to all the way around.

But I think before we do that, Richard, we would love to ask a few quick fireside chat questions that we have for you. Just to add some fun element to your already amazing journey that you’re on, and while on this, what you learned is what you would love to hear. So if you are all set, I’ll just get started with that.

Richard Donovan: Go for it. 

Kshitij Mohan: Perfect, Richard. So first question, what’s your most favorite podcast that you listen to these days? 

Richard Donovan: I would say the Huberman Lab podcast. 

Kshitij Mohan: May we know what was that about, Richard? 

Richard Donovan: It’s a guy called Andrew Huberman and he goes into neuroscience of all kinds of topics including sleep, focus, motivation, you name it. He goes into massive detail and into the neuroscience of how the brain works. And it’s quite detailed and, and they’re often quite long episodes, but it’s really, really interesting. 

Kshitij Mohan: Perfect. And I think we have found something to share it with everyone after the podcast. So this is something I think then we all should just get hooked to. Perfect. Question two Richard, the best non-tech book that has unexpectedly impacted your coding mindset as well? 

Richard Donovan: I would say “Atomic habits”

Kshitij Mohan: Oh, Atomic habits. 

Richard Donovan: And it’s not only impacted my coding mindset, but it completely impacted my mindset for life as well. Yeah. 

Kshitij Mohan: Oh definitely that’s a great book on building habits, breaking things down and helping you move ahead. Oh, lovely book by the way. Yeah. Perfect. One last thing, Richard, what’s the motto of your life or your entire thought process that you have been working on, and what resonates you today? 

Richard Donovan: I think it’s actually, it’s a bit self-indulgent, but it’s one of my own now, and it’s, there’s nothing more important than your own self, and your own well-being.

Kshitij Mohan: Definitely. And I think you are speaking from your practical experiences to say the least. 

Richard Donovan: Absolutely. 

Kshitij Mohan: Perfect. Perfect. Richard, this was really nice.  Thank you for being so candid and sharing your honest and lovely opinions about the things that you have been doing in your personal space. I think moving forward, just picking up from where we started, right? Talking about your journey and how you kind of evolved and how fitness kind of helped you during this entire process. One quick question here, right? So, while being on this journey, you never realize at that instant in time, right, what’s happening with you, and it’s generally the hindsight reflections of what’s happening and what’s not. Right? And while being on this journey this is I think, the most challenging aspect. And when you put this into the dev ecosystem, this really becomes a lot of things to balance and work out. Right? Any specific thoughts on how you were able to figure this out while on the go, or any specific thoughts around that?

Richard Donovan: Actually for a long time, not really, so much of it was actually navigating the struggle and I think at a certain point in time, I don’t know where it came from, but I had a little bit of a realization. Maybe some of that comes with age. At the time I was getting closer to 40, so we might call it a midlife crisis. I don’t know, but I had a moment. I was sitting at work and I just had a thought and it’s a little bit morbid, but it was about time and I thought if for whatever reason, I was laid on my deathbed and I was looking back at the time that I’d spent here and how I’d spent it, and I thought if I continue to spend it how I was, which was sitting in front of a computer and tapping a keyboard. I just asked myself, would I actually be happy with that? If that was all the time I had. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t. But if it was, would I be happy with it? And the answer was no. And in that moment, kind of just decided to myself that actually what I want to do, if I look back, I want to be able to have had an impact on other people around me. And, that was because I just felt like I could do that. And I spent a lot of time not doing that. 

Kshitij Mohan: Hmm. No, I think that’s definitely the ultimate realization of changing the way you work and changing the way you live. So this is great, Richard. Now bringing these things to the dev ecosystem part of it, right. Working and how the things evolve in this entire dev chain. So, there are a lot of pressures while you are going ahead, building, leading, right? And one of very critical pressure that we have all felt is a pressure to know everything, right? And in this kind of competitive world this just surpasses everything. Your thoughts on how to balance this stuff, how, how the managers, leaders, and because that’s where, as soon as you keep on growing up the ladder, I feel this is what keeps on growing, along with you as well, that hey, expertise and, and you should be knowing it all thoughts, right? So your take on this Richard. 

Richard Donovan: Yeah. I think the ultimate take on it is to stop thinking that because it’s not necessary. But you know that being said, I’ve been in a couple of leadership roles where that is exactly what I thought, and to be honest with you, I didn’t deal with it very well. I dealt with it badly, and those jobs didn’t work out very well for me and for the team. We might have got some software out the door, but we probably didn’t feel very good doing it. These days I don’t carry that with me. I don’t believe that you need to know everything to be able to lead. And I try and share that with my teams as well. And I openly share that, you know, I don’t have all the answers, and software development is a team game and, you know, contributions come from all sides.

Kshitij Mohan: Right! And I think this is really important, right? How do you keep on telling yourself, Hey, this is fine, right? You just need to pass on better. Maybe you just need to delegate better in order to drive the ultimate outcome that you as a team are trying to achieve. This is where I feel we lack a lot of, as leaders and managers, the right art of delegating things well, right, because. Other than that, this is a great way of myself also relieving a certain pressure of knowing everything to actually making people, push up the ladder and say, Hey, now let’s just start distributing more, driving more. But I think this is definitely an art to learn and go by it. So your take on this, Richard, you must have had certain experiences to live by this. 

Richard Donovan: Yeah. I’ll probably repeat myself a little bit during this, but again, in a few of my earlier roles, I just didn’t do this very well at all, and I tried to take responsibility for everything and I tried to do everything right and I tried to go to all of the meetings and I tried to do so much of the work and eventually, I got to a point and I realized I can’t do all of this, and I wasn’t sure whether some of the developers that I was managing could step up and do a bit more than just the code. But it got so much that I had to try and trust someone with that. And I did that in this instance, I handed over a project to one of my developers. I didn’t know if he could do it. But he stepped up, he delivered technically, he communicated really well with the business, which was really important because at the time I was failing to communicate with the business ’cause I had so much on and they couldn’t see progress on this project. And when I handed it off, actually this person communicated really well. The business started to see the progress. And actually, it was quite a, quite a lot of stress off my shoulders, to be honest. And you know, that was a bit of a defining moment for me to realize actually I can’t just do it all. I can’t keep hold of everything I’ve got to let go. And, also to trust and as a leader, that’s a really important message to give to your team as well, that you trust them and that you’ll just back them and help them. And you know, that for me it’s a really important message and again, something that I didn’t do in my probably first couple of roles really.

Kshitij Mohan: No, definitely. And I think what we have seen over time and again is that in such circumstances people do shine. You just need to give them the right information, the right platform, and they can just make everyone’s life better. Definitely. 

Richard Donovan: Yeah. Absolutely. 

Kshitij Mohan: And while doing so, right?  Talking about all this a circle of pressure, keeping things to yourself, right? Not delegating and thinking, Hey, it’s me who just has to solve it all. This is what eventually leads to burnout and maybe not the right state of this mental and physical well-being, right? And. luckily over the past few years, we have started seeing this wave of leaders, engineering ecosystem talk about developer well-being, burnout, developer experience, right?  Would love to hear your thoughts on these aspects, right? Because we definitely have seen along with your journey, this is what, the closest thing that’s close to your heart when this is what even you are trying to achieve in what you are doing today. So we’d love to hear your experiences on this aspect, Richard. 

Richard Donovan: Yeah, so well-being in software development, I think it’s so big and it’s something that over my career, I think it’s been massively neglected. I didn’t ever feel like I was supported with my wellbeing at any time and there are a couple of reasons for that. So, one, I didn’t really feel like I could talk about it. So when I had imposter syndrome, when I suffered with burnout, I didn’t really talk to anyone. And I didn’t think anyone would understand. And so it becomes difficult for people to then help you if you don’t ever tell them. So, you know, that’s on me. And, but as an industry, I think we find it hard to talk about these things, so we need to make that more acceptable and we need to understand more that people are dealing with these things. So I think that’s really important. What I also found is that how we think plays such a massive role in how we feel. And ultimately our well-being and the perspectives that we take, and recognizing that we choose how we think and realizing that we have the power to change even our belief system if we believe a certain thing, we have the power to change that and believe something different if it’s not helping us. And that for me has been a huge realization and it’s obviously a really big part of my mindset coaching. And those areas really feed into things like imposter syndrome and burnout in particular, and achieving, you know, work-life balance. We kind of touched on it earlier, but as I say physical well-being as well.  We sometimes talk about them in isolation, but they’re so intertwined.  Physical activity, whether it’s workouts or walking, yes, there are obvious physical benefits of doing those things and health benefits from doing those things, but it also has such a massive impact on your mental well-being as well. And not just your mental well-being, but we can take it further into the realms of performance. It has massive impacts on your focus, your motivation, probably your morale, and it’s absolutely huge. So I am actually as well as a mindset coach, I’m also a personal trainer, so I really do kind of bring them all together in, in under that well-being banner, so……

Kshitij Mohan: Oh, perfect. Richard, and but Richard, in these entire experiences, do you feel there is any specific practical processes or something that managers/ leaders need to keep on working towards, need of implementing so that everyone feels that, hey, at a very first step, you can just open out and say what you’re feeling. I think that’s what the first biggest challenge is and as even you mentioned, right? People just don’t speak up and most of the people don’t even realize that it’s happening with them. So how do you ensure that you are able to create that ecosystem around it? 

Richard Donovan: Yeah, I think it comes from the people at the top, it comes from the leaders, and, you know, if our leaders never show vulnerability and they never talk about the times that they maybe failed or they got something wrong, then without seeing it, everyone who works for them can almost read between the lines and think that they can’t talk about that either, because if they show it, then they’re not as good. So I think it really does come from the top when the leaders can share their own vulnerability, share their own feelings, and ensure that’s okay. And especially in my experience when I have done that my teams seem to feel more comfortable doing it as well, and, and it leads to a lot of things, but it tends to lead to a lot more trust with within the teams and also general morale seems to be better when that is the case.

Kshitij Mohan: Yeah, I think that that’s totally the case. We all need to ensure that we are working together, break those silos, and then I just talk about the stuff that’s going on. This is great, Richard. One last thing, you have seen it all, learned it all, definitely reflected so many times on your past journeys. What’s that one piece of advice that you would like to give today to your all the viewers, listeners, EMs, developers? How do you build the right balance between success and well-being?

Richard Donovan: It starts with self-leadership and you don’t have to be a leader to practice self-leadership. You can be at any level whatsoever, but you want to reflect and work out what it is that on a daily basis, What do you want in your day? How do you want to feel? How don’t you want to feel? What are you prepared to put up with? What are you not prepared to put up with? On top of that, you probably want some goals to work towards, and bringing all that together, it’s a really powerful concept is to work out and get clear on what your own core values are. Because your core values are the things that are gonna strike up whatever it is that you’re doing, you are gonna kind of move towards them. And what happens a lot of the time when people haven’t reflected on them, they don’t really know what they are. They kind of know, but they’re not totally sure. And what can happen there is they might find themselves in a job or in a situation and they kind of feel like it’s not quite right but they can’t put their finger on it. And what’s happened, as a coach, when I’ve gone through this process of helping someone define their core values, when they realize what their core values are, suddenly they go back to this situation and they realize,  I know why this isn’t right now. It conflicts with what I’ve got here. It doesn’t sit well with me and this is why. And suddenly things just seem so much clearer and it just makes. I think it makes it a lot simpler to navigate life. Nevermind work. 

Kshitij Mohan: Definitely. Perfect. Thank you so much, Richard. All I can say is this has been such a mind-blowing conversation and we are glad too, that you could talk about openly about challenges, the learning, the journey, and we just can’t be more happier about.

Thank you so much, Richard, for your time today. It was really nice having you. Thank you so much. Have a good day. 

Richard Donovan: Cheers. It’s been a pleasure.